Pursuant to Government Decree 408/2020 (VIII 30), Hungary closed its borders to non-Hungarian citizens as of 1 September 2020. The new rules abolish the tricolour system of green, yellow and red countries (for further details please see "Travel restrictions are back") and qualify virtually all countries as red.
Hungarian citizens may return to Hungary from any country but will face a 10-day1 quarantine unless they have tested negative for COVID-19 twice. Non-Hungarian citizens with permanent residence in Hungary and those who can stay in Hungary for more than 90 days will be treated the same as Hungarian citizens.
If any of the following people enter Hungary after participating in an international sports or cultural event held abroad, the same rules apply:
- professional sportspeople who are members of a Hungarian sports organisation;
- employees of Hungarian cultural organisations; and
- persons participating in international sports events held abroad through an invitation issued by a Hungarian sports organisation.
Foreign citizens (not listed above) cannot generally enter Hungary. However, the government decree recognises exceptions, for example commuters from a neighbouring country or persons with a verifiable reasonable cause (eg, compulsory court procedures, funerals, weddings, studies and people coming to sports or cultural events).
Similar to the restrictions issued during the first wave of the pandemic, the government decree makes exceptions for business travel.
Thus, employees and representatives of entities with an affiliated company in Hungary can enter Hungary without any further restrictions. On crossing the border, the business reason for travel must be proved (eg, with an employment contract or invitation letter). Travellers do not need to prove the legal relationship between the respective companies; nevertheless, it is ideal if such a relationship is apparent from the documents that the traveller brings.
Conversely, if a Hungarian citizen leaves Hungary for business reasons, they can return without any restriction if – on returning to Hungary – they can prove the nature of their travel.
Exceptions for Visegrad countries
Following the restrictions described above, the government eased the rules on travel between the Visegrad countries (also known as the V4 countries – Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Poland) through Government Decree 419/2020 (IX 1).
Hungarian citizens and their non-Hungarian family members from other Visegrad countries may be exempt from compulsory quarantine if they have tested negative for COVID-19 once (instead of twice under the general rules), provided that they had booked accommodation prior to 6 October 2020.
Slovak, Czech and Polish citizens may also enter Hungary if:
- they had booked accommodation for at least one night before 31 October 2020; and
- five days prior to entering Hungary, they have tested negative for COVID-19 once.
Principle of free movement
Reclosing Hungary's borders appears to be a straightforward measure to fight the pandemic on the one hand, but on the other, there is a risk of going against the European Union's basic principle of free movement. But is this the case here?
As a rule, such restrictions may be imposed if they are proportionate, non-discriminatory and have a well-based epidemiological criterion. However, to date, no harmonised EU-wide travel framework has been established. Therefore, EU member states are free to set up their own rules – including quarantine obligations or tests – while complying with the proportionality and non-discrimination requirements.
In this vein, the restrictions are somewhat hard to explain when it comes to cherry picking which EU citizens' free movement will be more restricted and where the relaxations for V4 citizens have not been explained in the context of a health crisis. Therefore, this suggests that the new border measures unproportionally favour travellers from the V4 countries, which explains why the European Commission warned Hungary about discrimination against EU citizens immediately after the government decree was passed.
1 This was originally 14 days but was reduced to 10 days by Government Decree 432/2020 (IX 18).
This article was first published in International Law Office.